Earlier this week I was looking through the references of a paper that will eventually be published in Nature Chemistry and I noticed the name ‘Brown, H. C.’ in one of them. After checking out the paper in question, I discovered that this was the H. C. Brown. Why am I pointing this out? Well, H. C. Brown died in 2004 and this cited paper was published in 2007. Posthumous publications are nothing new, but it did get me thinking about the length of time between a scientist (chemists in particular) going to the great laboratory in the sky and further papers appearing in the literature on which they are listed as authors. I thought I’d check out a few famous names (now dearly departed) to see if they had continued to publish from beyond the grave – and for how long.
1. Derek H. R. Barton (1918-1998)
Radical homologation of D-gluconic acid: highly diastereoselective synthesis of D-gluco-KDO derivatives
Published in Tetrahedron in 2001 (3 years after Barton died – in each case I’m not counting months; just taking the difference between year of death and year of publication)
2. Richard E. Smalley (1943-2005)
Controlled attachment of metal nanoparticles to single walled carbon nanotubes as a key step in their seeded growth and lengthening
Published in Carbon in 2010 (5 years)
3. Saul Winstein (1912-1969)
Difunctional derivatives of syn-dimethanoperhydro-s-hydrindacene
Published in JOC in 1977 (8 years)
4. Herbert C. Brown (1912-2004)
(It turns out that the 2007 paper I mentioned at the start of this post is not H. C. Brown’s most recent contribution to the chemistry literature).
Highly Efficient One Step Synthesis of Primary Amines from B-Chlorodialkylboranes
Published in Lett. Org. Chem. in 2012 (8 years)
5. Robert B. Woodward (1917-1979)
The conversion of β-amino esters by alkylaluminum compounds into β-lactams
Published in Tetrahedron in 1993 (14 years!)
I see no problem with posthumous publication if the deceased scientist made a contribution to the work that would, under normal circumstances, result in authorship. As the number of years tick by, however, then things might be a little harder to justify. Of course, some journals can be quite slow to publish papers too… let’s hope that’s not a factor too often. Who knows, although I imagine we won’t see any more papers co-authored by Winstein or Woodward, there might be some with Barton, Smalley or Brown’s names on them yet to make it past referee 3!
If any readers know of any longer gaps between an author shuffling off this mortal coil and one of their papers appearing in the literature (I’m talking chemists/scientists here), then let me know in the comments.
(Apologies for the title, I couldn’t resist)